There is no doubt that the US economy has wrecked havoc on just about every industry in America, but the one industry that has not only rebounded quickly and is continuing a significant expansion is the healthcare industry, and more specifically, the need for professional Medical Assistants.
For many of the unemployed or underemployed, the need to be able to quick-start a new career path and begin earning a suitable income within a short time span, requires the unending hours spent researching genuine opportunities and avoiding the countless come-ons and rip-offs that, like mine fields are strewn in your path to divert you and your money from a successful career search.
This article was designed for the novice in mind. You should have many if not most of your important questions answered, and guidance is provided to alert you to the many pitfalls and quagmires that abound, in this and many other career searches that ultimately entrap the ill informed and naive. The more solid information you have through your investigation, the better your decision will be in the end.
History, Job Description and Future
Let’s begin by understanding a little about this profession. First, you should know the identity of the profession or the description. According to a popular Internet reference and research site, the profession is: an integral part of healthcare business processes and procedures who perform administrative and/or clinical tasks in support of the work of medical doctors and other health professionals.
They usually perform routine types of tasks and clinical procedures such as measuring patients’ vital signs, recording information in medical records-keeping systems, administering medications and injections, preparing and handling medical instruments and supplies, and collecting and preparing specimens of bodily fluids and tissues for laboratory testing.
The American Association of Medical Assistant Board of Trustees adopted the following definition: “A Medical Assistant is a multi-skilled allied health professional, dedicated to assisting in all aspects of a medical practice under the supervision of a physician.”
They assists with patient care management, executes administrative and clinical procedures, and often performs managerial and supervisory functions. Competence in the field also requires effective communication, adhering to ethical and legal standards of medical practice, recognize and respond to emergencies, and demonstrate professional characteristics.
The term “medical assistant” itself may, have legal status in all nations where they can be registered or certified, whereas elsewhere they may simply be a loosely defined group such as covering related occupational titles such as medical office assistant, assistant medical officer, clinical assistant, or ophthalmic assistant.
The actual profession of medical assisting (MA) dates back to the 1930s. In 1934, a physician by the name of Dr. M. Mandl realized that his medical practice would benefit a great deal more with a few extra and experienced helping hands. He is responsible for opening up the first Medical Assisting School in New York City. His primary goal was to provide efficient medical training in a timely and cost effective manner to potential MAs. These students would eventually graduate to become significant business and clinical team assets to health care providers all over the world.
According to the United States Department of Labor and Statistics, employment in this field is expected to grow by 31 percent over the next decade and beyond, much faster than the average for all occupations. Training to become an MA is not only hands-on, but also short-term, allowing students to quickly get experience and gain an education in order to start working in the field.
Training and Accreditation
Now that you have a better idea what this profession is and what they do, it is time to consider what it will take to get you trained for this profession. There are several things that I strongly urge you to do, and one is to create a wish or wants list. This list is going to be crucial in allowing you to complete a comparison analysis and eventually narrow your list of academic candidates to a manageable few.
This may sound complicated but it really isn’t. Across the top of your page you’ll list the names of the scholastic institutions, and down the left side of your page you’ll list all the things that you want or need. You can even get more specific with segmenting the wants to “can’t live without”, and “nice to have, but not a deal breaker”. Now draw graph lines between each entry and voila, you are ready to start your comparison chart.
For those with access to a good computer spreadsheet program such as Microsoft Word, you’ll have an easier time setting up your graph and making changes if necessary. If you are really spreadsheet savvy, you might even be able to create a rating system that after all the data is input will automatically shuffle the best to the worst for you.
One of your wants should be “Accreditation”, if the scholastic entity is not accredited by either by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES), they should rank low on your list. If your school is not accredited by one of these agencies, you will not be eligible to take the CMA exam, and this can have a huge impact on your career.
Cost will obviously be another factor you will want to list. Don’t just look at a school’s tuition. Remember to include the cost of books and commuting etc. In addition, find out if financial aid is available to you. Federal loans and grants are better than private loans. Especially if one day your financial condition takes a dive and you may need to negotiate a suitable debt restructuring or new payment plan on your student loans.
Are class times flexible? If you absolutely must have distance education (online learning) courses or evening classes, never fear. More and more schools are looking to accommodate students with flexible schedules.
Most students who plan to eventually take the exam to become a Certified Medical Assistant need to find a school that will prepare them for the test. Check to see what kinds of classes are offered. The following topics will be covered on the exam: patient relations, office practices, first aid, medical terminology, lab procedures, clinical procedures, and pharmacology.
There are a several questions you can ask an admissions representative to get an idea how well the school prepares its students for the CMA exam and their career:
- How many of your students pass the CMA exam?
- How do your students’ scores compare to the national average?
- What percentage of your graduates find full-time work after graduation from your program?
This is important because a school who simply dumps new graduates into the job market with little to no support is going to be nothing better than a diploma mill, and employers will probably have little respect for it’s graduates.
Additionally, you may want to consider a vocational (for profit) school versus a community college. Any educational credits gained from a state college or university via an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree are transferable and can be used to further your education.
For Profit schools educational credits can’t be transferred to a state college or university. Warning, vocational schools are traditionally far more expensive, but the trade off is the fact that they are also easier to get accepted to.
Medical Assistant Salary and Income Potential
The amount of money you can make in this career will vary depending on your years of experience, your geographic location, and your skill or degree level. According to the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median annual income for assistants as of May 2008 was $28,300.
If we take a more realistic look at the job market today we can see that the average annual salary has risen to over $35,000, and the top five geographic markets are: New York $35,000, Washington DC $35,000, Massachusetts $34,000, California $33,000, and Connecticut $32,000.
Remember, these figures represent just the average. Fifty percent of the professionals in these states actually earn far more than that.
Where are the Jobs?
According to the Bureau of Labor, the top five states employing the most professionals are: California 81,860, Texas 48,970, Florida 37,280, Pennsylvania 24,350, and Ohio at 22,980.
The industries that employ the most Medical Assistants are:
- Offices of Physicians
- General Medical and Surgical Hospitals
- Offices of Other Health Practitioners
- Outpatient Care Centers
- Colleges, Universities and Professional Schools.
Finally, one word of wisdom I can impart to anyone investigating this or any other career opportunity, be THOROUGH! This is your life, and nothing less than thorough is called for when your time and money are put on the line. The due diligence you engage will be your ticket to the best decision possible and the possibility of a successful future. Good Luck!